Detective Day

Quill 140 Detective Day Image 1 FinalThe visions.  I’d had them all my life.  They’re tricky to read, like tarot cards.  Vague sometimes, like dreams.  When I was a kid, I would tell my mom, and she had this way of pretending it was normal while still keeping it secret.  By the time I became aware that my ability was unique, I knew how to hide it.  I started to teach myself how to control it, and soon enough, how to use it.  

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  It’s corny.  But it’s true.  I know it’s true.  I’ve looked into many a pair of eyes over the past fifteen years.  And I have seen many a bare soul through those eyes.  And now I am at the end of this particular quest.  I had before me, at last, the one pair of eyes I had been waiting to look into.  The one soul whose history I so wanted—yearned—needed—to know.


Three weeks earlier

I sat across from the main suspect in the murder of an assistant district attorney.  Even before I looked into his eyes, I had my doubts.  Beside me was my partner, Weston, who had similar doubts.  A high-profile, high-stakes case.  There were other investigations and operations involved.  But my partner and I focused on the victim.  That was our job.  And we had to use every tool at our disposal.

So I looked into the suspect’s eyes.  Most believed it was some kind of intimidation tactic.  Many laughed.  After all, I wasn’t so intimidating to look at.  But almost everyone squirmed, even if just a little, when I started peering hard into their eyes.  Some engaged and stared back.  Some glanced away and then looked back.  Some closed their eyes, but then opened them.  They always ended up looking back at me.  It was part of the process, part of my gift.  They were drawn to look.  And when they did, I gazed deeper.  The black of the pupils led to the light of their souls, like moving from night to daylight.  And I saw visions.  It was as if I were looking at a video made of clips of random moments, memories, thoughts, intent.  But it wasn’t just images.  I read sounds and emotions and other things that I could only describe as…energies.

Before I learned how to calm myself and absorb all the information objectively, I would always be drained by the encounter.  Drained and dizzied and disoriented.  And the visions, the reading, would be useless because I couldn’t remember or make sense of any of it.  It took years for me to figure it out. And it would take many more years before I could master it.

I locked eyes with the suspect, focusing on his pupils, moving past them, into them.  There were feelings of fear, an acrid odor, flashes of hands holding a string taut—someone flossing their teeth, and a memory of a smiling face…a very young face.


“What does your ‘gut’ say?” Weston asked as we stepped outside.  He knew what I could do.  Calling it my “gut” was part of his code for what I did.

“Same as your gut.”  I didn’t need to whammy him to know he wasn’t our guy, but now I was sure.  The soul of a bad guy rarely smiled, unless he was a psychopath or similar.  The fear and the odor were common in suspects, both innocent and guilty.  My certainty came mostly from the flossing of the teeth.  Visions of cleaning didn’t always mean a soul was clean.  But flossing, taking that much particular care…it was the sign of a soul that was meticulous about morals.  A soul that could do wrong, but tried to choose right.   And it was one of the types of signs I liked to call a “specific.”  It wasn’t just that his soul was clean, as far as murder was concerned anyway.  It was that he was clean of this particular murder.

Weston sighed.  The suspect was being set up.  It was one line of investigation we were following, but whoever set him up did a thorough and convincing job.  They chose someone who was so shifty and shady that even when he was innocent, he acted and appeared guilty.  We had a feeling that someone else had done the murder, but with all the evidence piling up against our main suspect, we had to be sure.

Weston and I hit the streets for the rest of the day, and when we returned, we hit the files.  There was pressure from above to close.  Our captain was trying to hold that pressure on his shoulders so we could take time we needed and do what we needed to do.  But we’d been running on all cylinders and working overtime for three days already.  So when I went home that night, beat and ready to do no more than shower, eat, sleep, and get up and do it all over again, I wasn’t expecting company.


“Wes?  What’s up?”  I was already in my pajamas.  But Wes was still wearing his suit.  The only indication it was the end of his day was that his tie was slightly loosened.  He had a file in his hand, so I took it he’d had some kind of brainstorm and had returned to the station to grab the case file and bring it over.  Normally he would have brushed past me and straight in, but he stood by the door as if he were waiting for an invitation.

I got a weird feeling in my gut.  He didn’t look worried or remorseful, or in any way like he was about to deliver bad news.  But he did look agitated.  I was tempted to peer into his eyes, but the few people who knew what I could do were—naturally—sensitive about my doing it.

I waved him in and he walked past me but didn’t do the usual Wes things, like strolling into the kitchen to find something sweet to eat or plopping down onto the couch and spinning theories out of context until I stopped him and made him rewind.  Instead he stood behind me, holding the file between his hands, while I closed and locked the door.

Weston took a deep breath and exhaled.  He handed me the file.  “I found her.”

I took the file and looked up at him, just beginning to process what he had just said, what he meant by “her.”  I pressed my lips together and gulped.

“Sorry, Day,” he said.  “I’ve had it for a few days.  But we’ve been up to our necks in this case and it won’t let up any time soon.”  His brows were furrowed.  I felt for my partner, sitting on the news, trying to wait for a time when I didn’t have other stresses to contend with.

I put a hand on his arm.  “Thank you, Wes.”

He gave a nod and took his leave so I could review the file alone.  My eyes were burning.  I needed sleep.  But Wes was right to bring the file over.  I put a pot of coffee on.  I sat down at my kitchen table, and I flipped open the file.


I went through all the expected phases when I realized I could do something that other people couldn’t do.  I hated it and wanted to be normal.  I thought it meant I had to do something special, like save the world.  I thought it was no different from the gifts other people get—some are athletic, some smart, some beautiful.  I’m…perceptive.  It didn’t mean I had to do anything with that gift.  But I felt compelled, especially when I was younger.  It intruded.  I couldn’t control it.  I would just glance at someone’s eyes when introduced, when shaking hands, when passing by in the hall, and I would see that person’s soul laid bare before me.

I can look into a person’s eyes and see the secrets of their souls through visions that provide clues to who they are, what they’ve done, and sometime even what they intend to do.  I’ve helped various law enforcement agencies solve cases.  I’ve helped friends through tough scrapes.  I’ve had the upper hand in negotiations and gambles.  I’ve been able to see innocence and guilt.  And after a bout of not following my conscience and almost losing myself, my soul, I decided on a livelihood and a path that I knew was right.  I loved my partner of three years, my captain.  I respected my colleagues and they respected me.  We saved people.  And some days it felt right.   But some days it felt like an ill-fitting suit.  Like it was almost right, but not quite.  I’d had that feeling before too, when I was young, before my mom had the talk with me.  I was braced for analogies about birds and bees.  I was not ready for the “you’re not my biological daughter” talk.

It was over half a lifetime ago now that my mom admitted to me that I was adopted.  At first, I was angry and hurt.  I wanted nothing to do with the woman who had abandoned me.  I assured my mom that she was my mom, my only mom, forever.  I assured her that my anger was not for her.  She’d looked so heartbroken, so scared that she would lose me.  But she had told me anyway.  I wasn’t trying to look into her soul that day, but it was just there, pained and afraid.  I had to look away.  A soul in great distress is unbearable to see.  Or it was, until I taught myself how to look.  I had to.  In my line of work, half the people I met had souls is great distress.

After a while, my anger faded and my curiosity took over.  Then I was the fearful one, when I told my mom that I was going to try to find my birth mother.  At first it was just the normal reasons.  Superficial things.  I wanted to know if I looked like her.  I wanted to know if she liked any of the same things I liked, if she also had an aversion to cheese.  For some reason, I didn’t put two and two together as a kid, until we got to the genetics section in biology class.  Then I wondered if my birth mother had the same ability I did.  If she had passed on the gift.  The more I developed my gift, the more driven I was to find my birth mother and to find out about my father too.  If she didn’t pass on to me the power to read souls, maybe my birth father did.
Some detective.  I couldn’t find her.  I began to wonder if she was in witness protection, or if she was a criminal hiding out in some non-extradition country.

The truth is that there may have been some self-sabotage involved in my personal investigation.  I was conflicted about finding her.  I needed to.  I was afraid to.  Ultimately, I knew I had to.  I had to look into her eyes and know.  I had to know if she was the one who left me with the one vision I had that wasn’t connected to anyone or anything else.  It recurred as a dream sometimes.  Sometimes it just came to me.  I’d had that particular vision all my life.  That’s why I was confused about my gift at first, why it took me a while to realize the connection between looking into someone’s eyes and getting visions of his or her soul.  It was because I carried an anchorless vision.  And when my mom told me I was adopted, I realized something.  That vision, my earliest vision, must have come from my birth mother.  By reflex, my newborn eyes must have locked with hers before someone carried me away from her, and they must have peered into her soul.

The scent of apples, a weight scale tipping one way then the other, a crescent moon on a chill night, a dial with arrows pointing in eight directions like a simple compass rose, a generic-looking start house, a feeling of worry or disappointment, a flattened hand, a pine tree, and a tile with the letter “L” etched on it.  That was the vision.

I told my mom about that anchorless vision on more than one occasion, trying to get her help in figuring it out.  The first time I told her about it, she assured me that when I was old enough, she would tell me what it might mean.  And so she did, or tried to, after telling me about my birth mother, whom she never met.  But mom spoke to one of the nurses who delivered me.  It seemed that half the vision was literal.  My birth mother lived in a small house in a town that border a pine forest.  I was born early in the morning.  It was chilly and foggy.  I looked it up and there would have been a half moon in the sky that night.  Visions were rarely precise.  But sometimes, when a person was utterly exhausted, that person’s soul was at its clearest, and the visions it showed were at their most literal.  If I’d looked into my birth mother’s eyes just after she’d given birth to me, it made sense for the vision to be literal.  That meant there was probably a tile somewhere out there with the letter “L” on it.  My first initial was “L,” but I had a sense that the tile wasn’t referring to me.  My birth mother’s initials were G. D.  So maybe the “L” was for my father.  And maybe the hospital had served her some apple juice.  The weight scale was a common item, from way back in myth, the weighing of the soul.  But in this case, it might have signified my weight being taken.

All those “maybe’s” would become certainties if I could just look into my birth mother’s eyes.


Wes and I didn’t talk about it when we saw each other at work the next morning.  Our case took priority.  The only mention he made of it was at lunch when he hesitantly offered to get someone else to help him review the victim’s financials.  He was sure the captain would approve it if I needed to take a break for a day or two.

I wasn’t about to leave my partner and my team in the lurch.  It took a few weeks.  And during that time, I went through that file every night.  I did internet searches.  I went over to my mom’s and told her.  I showed her a picture of the woman who had born me into this world.

The case was the center of my life for those weeks.  We caught the real killer.  We had the evidence.  We got a confession.  But I still looked into his eyes.  I read his soul and I was sure.

And then I requested a week off.  When the man in the seat next to me asked why I was traveling, I said I was going to visit family.  I gave myself a week because I had planned on watching first.  I had to see if it would be the right thing to do to even approach my birth mother.  She seemed like a decent person from afar.  Two teen kids.  A husband who wore a suit but no tie to work.  A chocolate lab who adored every member of his family.  She had just gone back to work.

I couldn’t decide.  And the indecision left a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.  I wanted to know who I was, where I came from, even though I didn’t think it would matter anymore.  I didn’t think it would change my life.  I was on my path.  The woman I saw didn’t look like someone who could derail me.  But I might derail her.  I might bring up bad memories.  I had no information on my birth father.  I had a feeling I didn’t want to know.  My birth mother had claimed on paper not to know who he was.  But the file that Wes had put together indicated that she had confided in a young nurse that she had told him about her pregnancy, and he had abandoned her and disappeared.


I didn’t tell her who I was.  I thought that was best to start with.  I introduced myself as a potential client for her up-and-coming investment firm and she arranged a dinner meeting.  I got there early and had time to stew.  What I was planning on doing was something I didn’t do to people out in the world.  I didn’t even do it to suspects or witnesses unless it was absolutely necessary.  I was planning an ambush.  I was planning on looking into her eyes and reading her soul without her permission.

My mom used to tell me that I would never learn to trust anyone if I was always reading them to know the truth, or what I thought was the truth.

“Just because someone lies to you doesn’t mean you can’t trust them,” she would say.  I knew it was true, what she said.  But I also knew the opposite was true.  For every person who was as honest as my mom, there was someone who was dishonest.

What gave me the right to stand in judgement, just because I could see a glimpse of who a person was?  What made me think that the little I saw is all there was to see of someone?

I’d tried reading my own soul many times, peering at my eyes in the mirror.  I always failed.  But I failed to read other people when I only looked at a reflection of their eyes as well.  I had to be looking into someone’s eyes and that was something I could never do for myself.

At last, she arrived, flustered and apologetic.  She was fifteen minutes late.  She almost knocked the pitcher of water over trying to juggle a purse and a briefcase.  I reassured her that I hadn’t been waiting long.  I made small talk to put her at her ease.  I resisted locking eyes with her for more than a brief moment.  I had to get to know her the old-fashioned way first.

She was nice and friendly, but it was the conscientious friendliness of a professional encounter.  It was part performance and part sincerity.  She was young, younger than my mom, but that made sense.  She had had me when she was young.  She told me about her kids and flashed a brief photo of them.  And then she told me about her firm.  So it went, a combination of the personal and professional, to present that she and her firm had just the right balance for a client with my needs.

I wasn’t getting anything deep, but then I had expected that.  So I braced myself at last.  I raised my glass as if announcing a toast.  She raised hers and we locked gazes.

They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul.  It’s corny.  But it’s true.  I know it’s true.  I’ve looked into many a pair of eyes over the past fifteen years.  And I have seen many a bare soul through those eyes.  And now I am at the end of this particular quest.  I had before me, at last, the one pair of eyes I had been waiting to look into.  The one soul whose history I so wanted—yearned—needed—to know.


Sometimes when I looked into someone’s eyes, I saw wonders.  Sometimes horrors.  I’d learned to handle it all.  But today I saw something I had never seen before.  I didn’t know what it meant.  The one who raised me, loved me, was my mother.  But the one who brought me into this world was my maker.  What is it that she made?

My stomach churned on the whole flight home.  This time I made no polite conversation with my seatmates.  I gazed into the distance.  And I wondered, if someone with my gift were to look into my eyes, would they see the same thing I saw in her eyes?

Would they see nothing?  Nothing at all?


I hadn’t told my mom anything over the phone.  And she knew better than to ask.  But when I went straight to her place and met her at the door, I saw the anticipation and the question in her face.  I couldn’t speak.  I didn’t know where to begin.

“She doesn’t know who I am,” I said.  “I met with her, but I didn’t tell her.”  I sat down at the kitchen table and absently picked up the salt shaker.  “I don’t think she figured it out either, or if she knew, she didn’t let on.”

My mom, who always wanted to know all the details of everything I ever did, surprised me.

“You don’t have to talk about it now,” she said.  “Get some rest if you’re tired, or I can make you something if you’re hungry.”

I looked at her.  A wrinkle or two lined her face now and her hair was graying and thinner.  She had put on a nice cardigan and a necklace I’d bought her for some occasion or other, just because she knew I’d be stopping by.

“I couldn’t read her,” I said.  “I didn’t see anything when I looked into her eyes.  Nothing.”  I put my hand over my mouth.

My mom slowly pulled out the chair opposite mine and sat down.  “What does that mean?”  She didn’t understand why I was upset, disturbed.

I lowered my hand.  “It’s never happened before.  Even the worst person I’ve ever put away had something.  Broken, soiled, sure, but there was something there to see.  She had nothing.  No soul at all.”

“Don’t jump to conclusions,” my mom said, but I heard a troubled waver in her voice.  “Maybe it’s because she’s your natural mother that you can’t read her.”

“Or maybe it’s because she doesn’t have a soul.”  That churning in my stomach started up again.  “Maybe I don’t either.”

“Look at me.  Look at my eyes, honey.”

I looked into her eyes.  I didn’t want to.  I didn’t want to see the light and the life in her eyes that I probably didn’t have in my own.  That was probably why I could see other people’s souls.  Because I lacked one of my own.  Some people think they’re dead inside.  They say that, but if I were to look into those people’s eyes, I would see something.  Me?  I am dead inside.  I must be.

“I don’t need to see who you are,” my mom said.  “I know who you are.  And so do you.”

I peered into her eyes then.  She leaned closer and gazed into mine.  The blackness of her pupils became a dark tunnel that I passed through.  And again, I saw something I had never seen before.

Light.  Warm and yellow like the sun.  It wasn’t the sun.  It was a soul.  A figure came into focus through the light.  It was my mom.  But I wasn’t seeing through her eyes.  I was seeing her.  There was a reflection in her eyes of the thing that she was contemplating, the thing she held in her hand.  It looked a little like an apple.  It glowed with light within and points of light radiated in all directions.  It was night.  Then it was day.  Night again.  And day.  But all the while, the apple radiated.  My mom gazed at it with pride and joy and something else…triumph.  There was a feeling of worry, but it wasn’t coming from her.  She just knew it was there.  Night and day came and went.  The moon waxed and waned, and when it reached a crescent, it burst into what looked like a galaxy.  This was not my mother’s soul…it was…mine.

I was her pride, the apple of her eye.  I was the one filled with worry and doubt.  As time passed, I was changing, growing stronger and sometimes weaker, like a moon waxing and waning.  And that burst of the galaxy, that was my world changing, my gift changing.  It had already started.

“Well, I guess there’s more to my ability than meets the eye.”  I welled up at my own weak attempt at making light of something profound.  I told my mom what I saw.

“I think you still have a lot to figure out about your gift, honey.  And it’s like trying to put together a puzzle when you don’t know what the big picture is.”

I thought about how my mom had only given me bits and pieces of knowledge as I became ready for it.  “Mom, do you know more than you are letting on?  Do you know why I couldn’t read my birth mother?  And why I just saw a glimpse of my own soul reflected in yours?”

She pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of her cardigan.  It was a note written in an ornate hand, unsigned.  It instructed my mom to do just what she had done at the moment she judged I was in a crisis about the state of my soul.  “I always suspected it was from your birth father,” she said.  “I was afraid when I got it.  I was afraid he would start sending more notes and show up and claim custody.  But something made me keep it.”  She heaved her shoulders as if shrugging off a burden.  “You know everything I know now.”

I took the paper from her.  The past week had uncovered more questions than answers.  But that was something I was used to.  I had used my visions to help other people solve the problems and mysteries in their lives.  Now it was my turn.


Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel.

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